June 9, 2020 Subject:
Legends of old Hollywood
By choosing 1952 as the moment to publish her first book of memoirs, Hollywood gossip-columnist Hedda Hopper had certainly struck while the iron was hot. Her profile had never been higher than in that emotive time of the Hollywood Blacklist (drawn up by Hedda), her excoriating of Ingrid Bergman for getting pregnant by a married catholic, and her lobbying for Charlie Chaplin’s long exile on grounds of communist sympathies. Having divided America so sharply, she could command a captive readership on both political wings, eager to hear Hedda advocating her cause.
But in this, they will have been disappointed. The memoirs end with Hedda’s sentimental farewell to her mother, who had died in 1941. So although not strictly chronological, the story seems to come to its natural conclusion at that point, with virtually no mention of any of those three controversies. The book is essentially a string of anecdotes of old Hollywood, rather like a poor man’s David Niven, only dating back earlier, to the beginnings of the studio system - complicated further by Hedda’s eternal concealment of her age. But it is known that she married, just once in 1913, to a much older actor called DeWolf Hopper, now quite forgotten, but who had been celebrated as the great voice of the Nineties.
Also virtually absent is any reference to Hedda’s fierce rivalry with Louella Parsons, Hollywood’s only other gossip-columnist to speak of. We only note that Louella refused to write a word about Sunset Boulevard because Hedda had a walk-on part in it. More surprising is that Hedda gets on well with William Randolph Hearst, who was Louella’s patron for so long (supposedly because she printed his version of what happened on board his yacht when the brilliant film-director Thomas Ince was suddenly carried off on a stretcher.)
Hedda seems to be surprisingly frank about her own shortcomings, admitting freely that she failed to break into showbusiness via the chorus line, since the Shubert Brothers called her a clumsy cow. For years, she survived on small film-parts, usually playing a guest at a cocktail party, until she became a radio-gossip, turning to print as late as 1937. It was now, past fifty, that she became famous for her trademark hats, supposedly to support her image as a helpless little frilly female in whom men would (unwisely) confide their secrets. Yet the secrets we never hear are her own. Hedda’s private life in the thirty years since her divorce remains a closed book indeed.
Interesting to know that it was Hedda who talent-spotted Jimmy Stewart, and that she and her husband lived at the Algonquin Hotel, before the famous round table made it public property. And just one inaccuracy: she says Joan Crawford was not welcome in Douglas Fairbanks’ house when she married 19-year old Douglas junior, and wasn’t accepted until the Mountbattens spent their honeymoon there. Actually that was seven years earlier.